City To Cut Down On Wrong Information In 911 Calls To FDNY With New Unified Call Taker System

NY Daily News - November 21, 2009

by Rocco Parascandola

The city is trying to fix the way its 911 system handles fires by letting FDNY employees listen in on calls to police operators so help isn't sent to the wrong address.

The change comes after three major fires - including two that took a total of six lives - in which firefighters said response was delayed by incorrect information.

The FDNY and Mayor Bloomberg have voiced support for the Unified Call Taker system, which started in May.

It lets 911 operators - not fire dispatchers - deploy fire companies. Officials say it has shaved response times to structural fires by 14 seconds, to under 4 minutes.

Friday, amid mounting criticism from the fire union, the FDNY and NYPD announced a temporary change in procedures to "reduce the likelihood of inaccurate information being sent." Now a 911 operator handling a call for a fire will conference in an FDNY staffer to ask further questions and verify details.

The two departments said the change won't increase response time but will help train NYPD operators in fire calls. Al Hagan, head of the Fire Officers Association, called the switch "true good government" and "a great step."

The UCT system has been an issue in several fires. Most recently, a dad and two sons died in a Crown Heights blaze after 911 callers provided bad information. Response to a Nov. 9 fire in Woodside that killed three was delayed by five minutes because a 911 operator keyed in the wrong address.